When “Brotherton” was founded in New York in the 1700’s and Brothertown, Wisconsin in the 1800’s, the Brothertown Indians weren’t just forming a town but a familial community. The difference between a “town” and a Tribal “family” is clearly visible not only in their community gatherings (as discussed in the previous post) but also in Brothertown’s migration patterns and current-day interactions with one another. When you ask a Brotherton today, “what does Brothertown mean to you?” , most will tell you that “Brothertown means family”.
When they were squeezed out of their lands in upstate New York, the Brothertown Indians moved to Wisconsin Territory–together. Over the course of 10 years, virtually the entire community picked up and relocated to Wisconsin. While it is true that problems with the whites made it difficult for them to remain in New York, the government did not force them out; they each had a choice. Nor did anyone force them to move to Wisconsin Territory with the rest of the group. Indeed, there were a few who moved back to the parent communities, or to other states, but the majority of the Tribe moved to the east side of Lake Winnebago. Why? Because, they didn’t just see themselves as a people who happened to populate the same town, they saw each other as family. This familial-based connection of the Brothertown Indians is not only evident in their historical communal-relocation practices, but it is also visible in their interactions and practices today.
In a family, people share their time and talents with each other; they do things for the common good of the family without recompense. This includes paying bills and taking care of paperwork, answering phones, making appointments and repairs, cleaning, doing dishes, and so on. These are the same things that the Brothertown people do for their Nation. Every one of the Peacemakers; Council people; Enrollment, Election and all other Committee members; museum, office, and Tribal store workers is a volunteer who has given freely of their time and talents, often for years on end. Most of them hold down more than one position at a time. Among other duties, Tribal Council members answer phones, make ID cards, run the museum and stock our Tribal store. Peacemakers do double duty by helping to keep track of donations and sending thank you letters. Other volunteers write grants, mail ballots, count ballots, run bingo, cook and/or clean at the BINCC. In one case, a man moved his family out of state to Wisconsin for 2 years solely to help work on enrollment files in the Tribal office. Many other volunteers have spent tedious years and uncountable hours researching, documenting & writing our recognition petition to OFA. Every single one of them is a volunteer; they’re not paid, they do it because this is their family.
Recently, a short informal survey was posted on Facebook. The question posed to everyone was, “What is Brothertown? Stated differently, what does Brothertown mean to you?” Here were the answers:
Raven De: Brothertown, to me, is extended family, of sorts. It’s a connection and closeness that’s unspoken, but you can feel it at tribal gatherings.
Katrina Joyner: cousins
Raymond Brooks:… to me Brothertown is my Circle of life….NATIVE PEOPLE OF TURTLE ISLAND BONDING TOGETHER AS ONE IN THE SPIRIT OF LOVE as a FAMILY, under the Blessings of the Creator The head of our Family
Greg Wilson: I view the tribe as our touchstone – connecting us to each other through the past, present and future.
Lani Bartelt: I view the Tribe As A Window For My Grandchildren To See Their Ancestors, their customs and beliefs!
Tom Schuh: I view it as knowledge and remembrance.
Not only did the majority of respondents seem to clearly view the Tribe as a “family”, but they see this family as a continuum; comprised of the people alive today as well as those who have walked ahead and those who will come after.
“Brothertown”, today, means the same thing that it did to our founders in the 1700’s and the same thing that it meant to those who moved to Wisconsin Territory in the 1800’s; Brothertown means family.